British Columbia

'I got accepted for 2024': B.C. nurse outraged with 4-year wait to upgrade credentials

B.C. licensed practical nurses like Karishma Sekhon, who has six years experience, are frustrated with limited opportunities to upgrade their skills to become registered nurses.

Limited access to courses frustrates Karishma Sekhon, who wants to be a registered nurse

Karishma Sekhon wants to upgrade and become a registered nurse after six years of working as a licensed practical nurse. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

The good news is licensed practical nurse Karishma Sekhon, 34, has been accepted to Vancouver Community College to become a registered nurse.

The bad news is she's been admitted to a two-year program that starts four years from now, in 2024. 

"I'll be like 40 by that time," said Sekhon, who has been a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Burnaby Hospital for six years.

"It's so far away for me." 

Licensed practical nurses (LPN) provide nursing care under the direction of medical practitioners, and under the supervision of registered nurses (RN). 

It takes two years of post-secondary training to become a LPN. A registered nurse, by contrast, holds a bachelor of science, nursing degree and is paid more than a LPN.

Sekhon, of Surrey, B.C., always wanted to be a RN. She applied to a bachelor of science program at the beginning of college, but didn't get in. A counsellor advised her to become a LPN first to see if she liked nursing, and suggested it would be easier to "bridge" into a RN program afterward

That didn't happen.

Accept 24 students per year

Limited access to B.C. nursing programs that allow licensed practical nurses to become registered nurses has left Sekhon so frustrated she's thought about leaving the field amid a province-wide shortage of nurses. 

​​Vancouver Community College told her LPNs are willing to wait for admission because they're already working, she said. 

The college's advanced entry bachelor of science nursing program is an option for those with previous licensed practical nursing training who want to become RNs. 

The college told CBC the program accepts 24 students a year and has a closed wait list up to September 2023

Karishman Sekhon has been a licensed practical nurse at Burnaby Hospital for six years. (submitted by Karishma Sekhon)

Since 2013, Sekhon has applied four times to three institutions to bridge or upgrade her qualifications. Each institution has a wait list or its admission criteria is based solely on an applicant's grade point average (GPA). 

Sekhon, who is married with two young boys and is expecting a third child in February, has been told if she really wants to get in she should retake classes to increase her GPA. 

There's no recognition given to her six years of experience working as an LPN, which she said is valuable.

"A book smart person doesn't make you a good nurse," said Sekhon. "I think how you excel in the work field is how you learn the job and how you learn everything and that's what makes you a good nurse." 

Sekhon's situation is not unique.

The BC Nurses' Union (BCNU) says aspiring nurses often choose to complete the shorter LPN program first, get a job and then work on their registered nursing credentials. 

Sekhon says in 2010, that's exactly what she was advised to do by an academic counsellor at Douglas College. 

When she couldn't get into the college's bachelor of science nursing program, she was told to become an LPN first and see if she liked nursing because it would be "easier to bridge into an RN program." 

Appeal to government

The nurses' union has expressed concerns to the provincial government about the lack of bridging opportunities for nurses that would allow licensed practical nurses to upgrade to registered nursing.

Union president Christine Sorensen says there have been meetings for 15 years where the union has provided feedback to various ministers of health and advanced education about developing a comprehensive program to help nurses upgrade their qualifications. 

"It's very difficult to move from LPN to RN," said Sorensen.

Karishma Sekhon is a mother of two little boys and expecting her third child. (Christian Amundson/CBC )

"I would say that they have been frustrating, not productive, as far as I'm concerned," said Sorensen. She's worried there has been no investment by the province in nursing education.

The BCNU estimates the province will need more than 25,000 nurses by 2030.  

CBC tried to contact the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training and the Ministry of Health for comment on the lack of classroom spaces for LPNs to become RNs. 

The Ministry of Health deferred to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. A spokesperson for Advanced Education minister Melanie Mark said she was not available for an interview.

Switch careers or stay

Sekhon says she could switch careers and get a degree in a different field in the time she will spend waiting for her Vancouver Community College seat to open up in 2024. 

Starting over doesn't appeal to Sekhon, who said she has a passion for nursing. There has to be an easier way for working nurses to go back to school, she said.

 "I just wish I could finish what I've been wanting to do for the longest time." 

About the Author

Belle Puri

Reporter

Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields. Belle contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where she investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.

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